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July 31, 2008

The best of everything restaurant-related

BestTio.jpgFor some reason this seems to be the "best of" season. At least I've just gotten three examples, which as you know, makes it a trend. First, the new Zagat survey came out. Then Baltimore magazine's August issue features  "The Best of Baltimore," which always includes a lot of food. Finally, AOL CityGuide sent me notice of its Best of Everywhere, which includes Best of Baltimore.

The funny thing is how much the three diverged. ... 

We all know that Best ofs are meaningless but fun (excepting, of course, Top Ten Tuesday, which is meticulously researched by my crack staff of experts, all of us using the scientific method). But this is ridiculous.

I went immediately to the fine dining category, and these were City Guide's top 10, supposedly voted on by just regular folks, as are the Zagat picks:

1) Brass Elephant, 2) Pisces, 3) Kali's Court, 4) Bicycle, 5) Aldo's, 6) Ixia, 7) Abacrombie, 8) Cinghiale, 9) Brasserie Tatin, and 10) Brighton's Orangerie.

Nothing against these restaurants, but wouldn't you think Charleston would at least make the top 10? Note that it was No. 1 for the Zagat voters in several categories.

Here were the No. 1's in various categories, some of which make sense, some of which don't: 

Best Restaurant
Tio Pepe Restaurante 

Best Bar
Mothers Federal Hill Grille 

Best Barbecue
Corner Stable  

Best Beer
Max's On Broadway  

Best Breakfast

Shea's Pancake & Waffle House 

Best Brunch
Hull Street Blues Café  

Best Burgers
Five Guys Famous Burgers  

Best Cheap Eats
Papermoon Diner  

Best Chinese Restaurant
Bamboo House  

Best Cocktails
Cosmopolitan Bar & Grill 

Best Crab Cakes
Koco's Pub 

Best Date Spot

Best Dessert
Vaccaro's Italian Pastry Shop  

Best Dive Bar
Pickles Pub  

Best Family Friendly Restaurant
Rainforest Café

Best Fine Dining
Brass Elephant

Best Happy Hour
Crazy Lil's  

Best Inner Harbor Restaurant
Mo's Crab & Pasta  

Best Irish Bar
An Poitin Stil  

Best Italian Restaurant

Best Late Night Dining
Sip & Bite  

Best Mexican Restaurant
El Salto 

Best Pizza
Matthew's Pizzeria 

Best Romantic Restaurant
Melting Pot  

Best Seafood

Best Singles Scene
Bay Café  

Best Sports Bar
Padonia Station 

Best Steak House
Ruth's Chris  

Best Sushi
Chiu's Sushi 

Best Vegetarian
Flying Avocado Cafe

Your restaurant critic tried to find out more for you about how the poll worked. Here's the best I could do, from the CityGuide editor in chief, James Fletcher:

Each year we look at thousands of potential nominees for City's Best and whittle the list down based on the insights of our team of editors and writers around the country. Consumer feedback and opinions are another important factor that we take into consideration when selecting our final list of nominees. Ultimately, it was the real experts -- local consumers who frequent these establishments -- who selected the winners.

But best seafood restaurant...Gunning's?




Posted by Elizabeth Large at 4:08 PM | | Comments (31)


Best Breakfast, Shea's? ACKK!

I think fond memories of the original Gunning's, on Hanover Street in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Baltimore City, are inflating the reputation of the new Gunning's, off Route 100 in the Hanover neighborhood of Anne Arundel County. The crabs have been mediocre that last few times I've been to the new place. Thankfully, the Sandbox has come up with a number of alternatives that I'm going to check out.

What's up with these reviews?? I looked pretty carefully at the Mexican restaurants section, just to see how their rankings match against my favorites. I'm actually okay with El Salto being #1, but the rank Holy Frijoles (8 reviews, average 2 stars) two places ahead of Mari Luna (15 reviews, average 4 stars). Neither the math nor the logic work for me on that one. And how do they get away with listing Burrito en Fuego as an Inner Harbor restaurant??

Who are these 'local comsumers'? I want names.

Yeah, I'm with Piano Rob on this one. Pickles Pub is a DIVE BAR? Come on! This sounds like a list by people who live in the counties, not in the city.

The Guide also had their best of issue this week. It was laughable. I suspect they just totalled up the advertising dollars for the year.

Maybe we should all issue our own Top 10 Baltimore restaurants? Better yet, top 10 Denver restaurants, except for Bucky, who has to do Montreal. Then we'd probably match AOL's crack team of local experts.

Who still uses AOL? Even my mom got rid of AOL.

I really have to argue with Aldo's being in the top 10. It's not that good, the whole place just feels too damn impressed with itself, and the prices are absurd. Top 10 places to send your worst enemy maybe.

As a matter of fact, I have a favorite Italian restaurant in Montreal...Il Mulino, which is Italian for "The Mulino."

Just out of curiosity, I checked the AOL City Guide for Denver..."the best" weren't too out of line on the major categories.

Uh, Bucky, doesn't "Il Mulino" translate to "The Mill"? You knew that, right?

I imagine he was making a little joke. :-) EL

Did the definition of "dive" change while I wasn't paying attention?

Everyone who voted for Corner Stable as Best BBQ should be forced to eat Hamburger Helper three times a day for life.

Andy's is so superior it's not funny. Koby's is good. There's others that at least try. But Corner Stable? Ack!

Montreal is a wonderful town to eat in. I'm hoping that, with Southwest partnering with WestJet, we'll be able to get cheap flights from BWI to Trudeau.

Weekend trip to have the foie gras poutine at Au Pied Couchon coming up...

How can a restaurant without a smoker (Corner Stable) win best barbeque?

How can a restaurant without...: bribes, payoffs, pictures of someone's sister?

Sab's - best Italian? You've got to be kidding me. Now best salad dressing, yes I give 'em that.

Lissa - what in the world is foie gras poutine? Last time I was in Canada - 2 yrs ago, the only pountine I saw was french fries with cheese curd and brown gravy. I won't "gak" out of respect for our neighbors to the north, but it didn't lend itself to my culinary curiosity, I will say instead! Now, you start anything with "fois gras" and I am very curious!

best sports bar, padonia station? boooo

Pickles Pub as "Dive Bar" is definitely a ridiculous concept and smacks of limited scope by the pollsters. But then again, as a drinker I've come to realize that the category of "Best Dive Bar" is a sort of paradox: the more a bar achieves a high level of Diveyness, the less I am likely to think of it using the adjective "best." Best what? Place to get scared?

As for the rest, I certainly endorse El Salto, but the rest leaves me thankful for the existence of D@L--lists like this give the impression that there are no other restaurants in Baltimore other than Charleston, Brass Elephant, Ruth's Chris, and 5 Guys.

As usual on Wednesday, I enjoyed a delightul and enlightening happy hour at Sammy's Trattoria. Sammy has embraced Restaurant Week most wholeheartedly in that he offers a three-course lunch for $20.08 and a three-course dinner for $30.08. Interestingly, almost the entire regular menu is represented on the RW menu - and the portions are equal to those of the regular menu. As far as I am concerned, this is quality food at bargain prices. The diner has a choice of eleven appetizers, 17 entrees (including the sinful duck ravioli), and three desserts.

Sammy told me that he intends to continue this practice through the rest of the calendar year. At the same time, the full menu will still be available. I think this is a brilliant (albeit brave) marketing campaign - one which has yet to be announced. Sammy gave me permission to give the Sandbox the scoop.

Additionally, Sammy hosts several events in the course of a given month. For example, there is a series of Cabaret Nights of which I am the musical director. These shows feature local musical theatre performers and the first three of the season will take place September 21, November 2 and December 14. The show costs $10 per person; with dinner at $30 you have an entire evening of entertainment and food (beverages and gratuity are extra) for $40 - and the meal won't be matched at any dinner theater. Doors open at 5PM on those dates, the show begins at 6 and everything is over by 8.

Sure, parking is a concern in that part of Mt. Vernon but Sammy's offers valet parking on weekends and expected large-group gatherings. My suggestion is that you call ahead for reservations and ask any questions.

I tried to copy-and-paste the two-page RW menu but it didn't work, so I'll type.

Appetizers: Shrimp Bruscetta; fried mozzarella; sausage and broccoli rabe; sausage and peppers; antipasti freddi; fried calamari; pasta fagiole; margherita pizza; Nikki's pesto pizza; signature house salad; Sally salad (baby spinach, walnuts, gorgonzola, Bosc pears).

Entrees: raviole Casale; lasagna; spaghetti carbonara; spaghetti w/ meatballs; tortellini alla gorgonzola; penne all Bolognese; pappardelle alla pesto; penne vodka; pappardelle alfredo; chicken or veal marsala; chicken or veal parmesan; ccapellini alla Lula; veal involtini (my personal favorite); chicken alla Toni and Tina; seafood Fra Diavolo.

Desserts: homemade canolli; homemade tiramisu; Italian sorbet.

Joyce, here you go;

I've had real, plain poutine, and it is ok. Probably more of a winter dish.

Lissa - as they said in the article "breathtakingly decadent"!

Piano Rob, thanks for the recommendation-- I just made reservations for tomorrow evening for my husband and I! Hooray for the Sandbox!

Joyce, there is an episode of No Reservations where Bourdain visits Au Pied Cochon, and the owner says he can give him too much foie gras. He then proceeds to tell the server to just keep bringing all the menu items to him, including the foie gras poutine.

I think it might be the only time Bourdain has admitted defeat.

Quebec episode, I think.

Jackie - Enjoy! (And I know you will.) Viva La Sandbox!

Lissa - I love Bourdain and have no idea how I missed that episode. I'll try to find it on "on demand". Watching Bourdain admit defeat is something to see. I remember one episode when the Executive Chef from some rather well known restaurant said to the camera crew something like "the guy eats like a #@#* ing horse!"
I also love fois gras in every incarnation I've ever had it!

the Plattsburgh, NY airport, which isn't that far from Montreal, has just undergone a huge upgrade. Since Southwest usually tries to go to second tier airports outside of major cities, such as BWI, Providence RI or Orange County, I'm hoping that might try to tap into the Montreal market via upstate New York.

oh, how could pickels pub be listed at the best dive bar. Clearly that title should belong Mount Royal Tavern on the fringe of Bolton Hill or the Curb Shoppe in Mount Washington.

Now I really like El Salto but BEST? ummm no.

Sabatino's... Sabatino's still served french fries as side dish. Are we in NY's Little Italy of 40 something years ago? No. Sorry. Not Sabatino's for me. For me it's always Chiapparelli's!

I second Mt. Royal Tavern. Just don't eat anything there, no matter how desperate you get.

p.s. not that I think the Mt. Royal Tavern is the ultimate dive bar. It's slightly above dive. I can't share my dive bars, because then they would cease to be just that. But the Mt. Royal Tavern is better than Pickles Pub, which is so far from a dive bar it's ridiculous.

A carpenter uses a set of house plans to construct a house. If he didn’t the bathroom might get overlooked altogether.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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